Bible Maundy Thursday Reflections

Maundy Thursday Reflections

A guest blog by Shawn Blythe

The events of the Thursday before the crucifixion centered around the Passover meal that has come to be known as ‘The Last Supper’.   The events of that evening were among the most momentous events in all of history was going to happen but, apart from Jesus, no one—not even those directly involved—had a clear understanding of the implications.   While we typically focus on the attendees of the meal, there are a number of others who were involved in this evening that warrant a few moments of our time.

First, there was a man carrying water who Jesus instructed his disciples to follow (Mark 14).  There is no indication that this man had any understanding of the role he would play in leading the disciples to a specific house.  He was unlikely to have been a successful man, as carrying water was often a woman’s role at that time.  In Joshua 9, Joshua punished the Gibeonites by forcing them to chop wood and carry water, so it is unlikely to have been a glamorous or respected task.  Although Jesus states that this man will “meet” the disciples (Mark 14), it is not clear if he understood the purpose of the meeting in advance – or that he would have cared, even if he did know.  He was likely a servant of some sort, simply going about his daily business and unaware of the historical events unfolding around him.

Next, there was the owner of the house.  Although there are many Jewish traditions about who this man may have been, the Scriptures shed no light on his identify.  It is unclear what his expectations may have been, as he prepared the room that day for guests yet unknown.  The owner was likely a reasonably wealthy man, since he had available a large, furnished guest room.  I often wonder if anyone else inquired about the availability of the room—perhaps even offered money for use of the premises—before Jesus’ disciples came calling.  I think about the owner’s family: did they question what the room was being saved for, or have an opinion about how the room should be used that night?  The owner may or may not have known who the disciples meant when they referred to “the Teacher” but, given events in Jerusalem during the previous week, he may at least have wondered if this group was related to the rumors about a Messiah.

Finally, no review of that evening’s events could be complete without mentioning the Sanhedrin, local leaders with rights granted by the Romans to make certain governance decisions in Jerusalem.  Although a subject of much debate, it is at least plausible that the Sanhedrin of this time was a mixture of Pharisees and Sadducees.  Pharisees were largely religious scribes and, in theory, followers of the rabbinical traditions and their application to everyday life.  Sadducees, on the other hand, represented the Jewish aristocracy.  They had generally aligned themselves with Rome and possessed significant societal power and wealth.  The designated leader of the Sanhedrin was the High Priest, a position typically filled by a Sadducee. 

The Sanhedrin had a vested interest in maintaining the peace, neither doing anything that would cause the Romans to replace them with some other governing body, nor allowing a situation that the Romans would consider rebellion, which would lead to direct intervention by force.  In fairness to the Sanhedrin, this was not the first time they had been faced with potential unrest, as Acts 5 clearly indicates that they had earlier grappled with this issue with both Theudas and Joseph the Galilean. As a group, they had a lot to lose if they allowed this situation to get out of control.

As a result, the Sanhedrin was less interested in the veracity of Jesus’ claims than in ensuring that Jesus’ popularity did not rise to a level that threatened their position or, to put it more charitably, the relative independence of their country.  In John 11, Caiaphas (the High Priest) famously chastised the Sanhedrin with the equivalent of “You know nothing! It’s better for this man to die than for us to allow him to jeopardize our position and country.”  As individuals, Jesus may have given pause to the members of the Sanhedrin regarding exactly who He was (for example, Nicodemus the Pharisee, in John 3 and 7) but, as a group, that evening their interests were largely political and/or national, rather than spiritual.

And so, we see a mixture of people going about their daily lives.  Some, like the man carrying water, were simply doing their jobs and possibly more concerned with sore feet or an aching back, and perhaps calculating how many additional trips to the well before the day was over.  Others may have been more aware of the somewhat mysterious nature of unfolding events but focused on various administrative duties, such as the owner of the house, who readied his guest room.  Still others, like the Sanhedrin who had significant “skin in the game,” were more concerned with mitigating the potential risks associated with this latest “Messiah” than with considering spiritual salvation.

Life is a continuum of events and, despite the line we Christians have drawn between the sorrow of Friday evening and the joy of Sunday morning, life in Jerusalem carried on.

The water carrier likely continued his daily work, not knowing or caring about the events of the weekend which, at that point, probably had no personal impact on him.  The homeowner may have been somewhat concerned if he put two and two together, connecting the group who used his upper room with the events in the Garden of Gethsemane and the subsequent trial and execution.  After all, the last thing a businessperson needs is to be associated with a treasonous criminal convicted of capital crimes. 

The Sanhedrin had their own problems: there was an unfortunate scene at the execution (including an earthquake, darkness, and some apparent issues with the temple curtain), along with reports of trouble at the gravesite that included the fact that the body was missing.  Ahh, politics.

They all lived on the margins of the miraculous.  With the possible exception of Nicodemus, none of them appear to have been personally impacted by the events of that weekend. They were just like us, with jobs, money concerns, status concerns, and egos.  If successful, they had gripes with those who threatened the status quo; if unsuccessful, they had gripes with those who failed to resolve their grievances.

In Jerusalem that weekend, a person was much more likely to be on the margins of events than directly involved.  It is no different for us today.  We need to get comfortable operating in the margins, ever aware and always ready for our Savior to call upon us, always prepared for the God of all creation to call our name.  But in the meantime, we must remain actively engaged as witnesses to the extraordinary interventions of our Father. No matter the circumstances, understand that the miracle is always for the glory of God, and the glory of God must be recognized. 

Whether direct recipients or observing from the margins, we are witnesses.  And witnesses have an obligation to tell their story.

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